BLOOMINGTON, Ind., — It ended Saturday after just a few laterals. Probably for the better.
The championship portion of the Iowa football season was over. Yes, it’s totally fair to question how realistic “championship” ever was with the Hawkeyes, who sit 4-5 (2-3 Big Ten) going into Saturday’s home matchup with Purdue (3-6, 0-5). This team had some obvious questions in August (defensive line) and then had a few more pop up over the course of the season (passing game) that proved to be too much to overcome.
Any championship ideas ended with Indiana defensive tackle Adam Replogle covering up a loose lateral on the Memorial Stadium turf. That was appropriate. The 294-pound senior, along with running mate defensive tackle Larry Black, carried the fight all day along the line of scrimmage, combining for four tackles for loss, a sack and the game-clinching fumble recovery in the Hoosiers’ 24-21 victory.
“You just see us carry over what we do in practice onto the game film,” Replogle said. “We practice physicality and getting in the backfield, and I think that’s what you finally see on the game film.”
That is what they saw on this game film.
Iowa saw the opposite side of physical. The Hawkeyes were held to less than 100 rushing yards for the second time in the last three games with 96. This was the first time the Hoosiers held a team to less than 100 rushing since Massachusetts in week 2.
Spotlight play might’ve been a third-and-2 from Iowa’s 29 midway through the third quarter. Indiana just scored to take a 17-14 lead. Iowa running back Damon Bullock lost a yard on first down. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz caught a 9-yard pass on second. Iowa called run on third-and-2 and Bullock was stuffed by linebacker David Cooper and safety Mark Murphy.
Indiana was the more physical team. So, not only did Iowa’s championship hopes end, its identity was stolen and used against it.
“It was a tough matchup for us a year ago, thought it might be a little bit of an issue today and it proved to be,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I thought we did a little bit better in the second half. We changed a couple of things schematically, but they were certainly a factor. We didn’t do a good enough job against them throughout the game.”
Iowa rotated three guards into the game, redshirt freshmen Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh and junior Nolan MacMillan. Iowa shifted to more of an outside rushing attack in the second half and it did yield better results after just 21 yards in the first half, but the Hawkeyes never gained traction with inexperience against fully matured D-line veterans.
It was a learning day. All three players will be back next season and all three will compete for playing time. They know they have to get better and they now have film that tells them that.
“It’s something that comes with being young, but that’s no excuse,” Blythe said. “In any sport, no matter how good you are, you have these days. It’s something we’re going to have to watch on film. There are tons of things we did that were good and tons we did that we need to improve on.”
Senior center James Ferentz had an all-day seat with Iowa’s struggles up front, trying to coach up new and/or inexperienced guards on both sides.
“Credit goes to 98 and 97,” James Ferentz said. “They’re good, experienced players. They impacted the game. They did more than we could and they won.”
This loss hit Ferentz hard. He’s a senior and last week’s loss means the rallying cry now is bowl eligibility, which doesn’t ring out as much as championship. And even that is under serious question. The Hawkeyes will be favored this week; they won’t be at Michigan (6-3, 4-1) in two weeks and they won’t be in the season finale against Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) on Black Friday in Kinnick, which could be very, very red if Huskers fans move aggressively on the open market for tickets.
The Nebraska fan base is well schooled in the Black Friday schedule. This will be the first one at Kinnick. As of Sunday afternoon on StubHub.com, there were 1,663 tickets available, ranging from $80 to $174.
Replogle recovered the lateral about 15 yards to Ferentz’s left. He looked down for a second and then clapped his hands and jogged to the corner of the end zone on the way to the lockerroom. He waited there for about a minute until teammates gathered to “swarm” off the field.
That minute probably felt like forever.